Have you ever wondered why some people irritate you and others are easy to be around? The importance of effective interpersonal communication depends on embracing this question.
Each of us has a preferred way of communicating and the way others perceive us usually classifies our behaviors in one of two ways.
Some people are more out-going while others keep more to themselves. We refer to the former as extroverts and the latter as introverts. Extroverts appear talkative, open, show emotions, and like to be with people. Introverts appear quiet, thoughtful, keep emotions more private, and like to spend time alone.
These two types of engagement styles are distinguished from each other by the following three factors:
- How they acquire energy
- How they process information
- How they respond
The extrovert gets energy from interacting with others. Social stimulation energizes extroverts, bringing them alive. They process information by talking with others. Isolation drains them. As they process their information they are evaluating and assessing out loud. It’s as though they hold a public debate as they sort out their thinking on a given issue. They readily enjoy the open engagement process.
The introvert gets energy by being alone. This person processes their information best in solitude. When introverts are among people, they are drained of their energy. They can be social as well, but they prefer more structure as they interact. Knowing the rules of engagement helps them feel less depleted in the social process. It’s harder for an introvert, as opposed to an extrovert, to think on their feet and respond quickly, so give them time to think.
A military metaphor can help us understand these two types better. Imagine that each person has within them a “general” and an “aide”. With the extroverted person, we meet the general who is in charge and can access information immediately, presenting it to you in a forthright manner. With the introverted person, we meet the aide. In order to access their best information, the aide needs to go inside and have a conference with the general. Then the aide returns and gives us his or her best answer. It can be frustrating for the extrovert to wait while the introvert does his or her internal search. The introvert can feel rushed and crowded by the expectation of an immediate answer. Tensions can arise because of this.
Other conflicts can also arise between extroverts and introverts. The extrovert can appear flighty and bombastic to an introvert because extroverts think out loud and are more expressive. An introvert may experience them as ungrounded and unpredictable. Since introverts like structure, they can be put off by this disposition and pull back. The extrovert may become frustrated with the introvert because they experience them as non-conversant and quiet, taking energy away from them.
Under stress, both types become more entrenched in their behavior patterns. The extrovert becomes more talkative and loud, while the introvert becomes more withdrawn. It is easy for these two types to avoid each other rather than get into conflict.
So what is the take-home message seeing that we need to engage with both of those styles?
- Remember that not everyone processes information the way you do. Differences do not make people right or wrong. Understanding the differences will go a long way in helping you ‘stay in the game’ with those who are different from yourself.
- If you find yourself feeling stressed by someone, try to determine if this person is an extrovert or an introvert. Then do a self-test: which predominant style are you? This may give you clues as to how you might respond to build a relationship.
- As we mature, we take some of the rough edges off of our personalities. Extroverts come to learn that quiet reflection has its place, and see the value of thinking things through before they engage with others. Introverts become adept at pushing themselves into action more quickly, so as to pair their responses more closely to the unfolding events. They learn to access their information more quickly. This goes a long way in facilitating interpersonal communication.
- We tend to believe that everyone sees the world the same way that we do. This is not true. Trying to see the world through another’s perspective will reflect our belief in the importance of effective interpersonal communication as well as promote the same behavior in others. This allows for everyone to have their needs met in a win-win scenario.
Generosity and understanding are key words as we consider our differences as personality types. Extroverts and introverts each have their unique contributions to make in the world. Being curious and thoughtful will go a long way in bridging the gap between these two types. Let’s extend the olive branch to one another and support healthy interpersonal communication. As Guru Steven Covey always used to say; “The importance of interpersonal communication rests on our individual commitment to seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”